“Vote Yes for a Safe Italy” or “Vote No to Defend the Constitution”: Italian Constitutional Politics between Majoritarianism and Civil Resistance

‘In order to obtain a united Europe against terrorism, we need a strong country, with a Constitution that gives stability’.1

In this way, Maria Elena Boschi, the Italian Minister for Constitutional Reform, recently justified the pending comprehensive reform of the Italian Constitution of 1948. Boschi’s ambiguous observation – suggesting that a vote against the constitutional reform project in the upcoming referendum in October leaves Italy more vulnerable in the face of terrorism – is part of an intense public debate in Italy. The government’s constitutional reform strongly pits the governmental majority against a variegated opposition, a political contention which has come to dominate a significant part of public debate in Italy in the last few months. Resistance to reform mobilizes parties in the political opposition (Movimento Cinque Stelle, Lega Nord, Forza Italia) as well as civil society (in particular, il Comitato per il No and Libertà e Giustizia). Both Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Minister Boschi have attempted to set the stakes higher by directly relating their political fates to the outcome of the referendum (in case the ‘No’ vote wins, both have declared to step down). Renzi and his government further stimulate plebiscitarian dimensions by dichotomizing the vote between those that want to modernize Italy – a reform that will ‘bring Italy into the future’ – and the ‘conservatives’ that supposedly cling to a (corrupt) past. Both Renzi and Boschi regularly sustain that in case of a ‘No’ vote, chaos will rule (reminding one of ‘après moi le déluge’).2 Public debate seems trapped in a Manichean game between yes-proponents that accuse the opposition of conservatism, and no-proponents that accuse the government of authoritarian leanings ...

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